Saturday, 21 April 2018

Lady Barron Falls Circuit (Mount Field National Park)

Also known as the Three Falls Track, the Lady Barron Falls Circuit takes walkers through the rainforests found on the lower levels of Mount Field National Park. Passing by the magnificent Russell Falls early on along the walk, the trail takes walkers to Horseshoe Falls and Lady Barron Falls while passing through beautiful forests dominated by the massive Swamp Gum or Mountain Ash - the second tallest tree in the world

Distance: 6 km ('tadpole' loop)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, level walking and steep descents and ascents via steps and stairs
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and railings in places. Built to a dry boot standard suitable for tourists
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, with clear markers at trail junctions indicating time to next landmark
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Many steps, particularly leading up from Russell Falls and towards the end of the walk
Best Time to Visit: All year round
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply
Getting There: The trail starts at the Mt Field Visitors Centre. From Gordon River Rd, take Lake Dobson Rd (Route C609) to the Visitors Centre. Trailhead is located behind the facility

After completing the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, Alissa and I were taken back to Launceston before picking up our hire car the next day. With the multi-day hike component of our trip completed, Alissa and would spend the rest of our time in Tasmania on a road trip as we headed from Launceston to Hobart and then up the east coast. While we popped into a few small villages on our way south, the first major stop of our road trip was Mount Field National Park. Tasmania's oldest national park, Mount Field was home to two of the six day walks we would be doing on our trip. With our afternoon arrival on our first day in the area, Alissa and I popped into the Mount Field Visitors Centre to tackle the shorter Lady Barron Falls Circuit. Also known as the Three Falls Circuit and one of Tasmania's Great Short Walks, the combination of rainforest and waterfalls sounds like a walk that was right up Alissa's alley.

Starting from just behind the park's visitors centre, the trail begins on pavement through the grassed parkland before entering the surprisingly pristine rainforest just beyond. Upon crossing a bridge into the rainforest, the pavement gave way to unsealed walking track, however it had clearly been heavily compacted to provide a solid dry boot standard trail that would be suitable for the mass number of visitors this park receives.

Water would be a constant companion for most of the walk, with the trail running alongside a beautiful fern-lined creek at this early stage of the track.

A mere 300 metres into the walk, Russell Falls is a spectacular two tiered waterfall that is justly celebrated as one of Tasmania's best and most beloved. This would easily rate as one of the prettiest waterfalls I've seen in Australia - and that's after going on some pretty waterfall-heavy trails in South East Queensland like the Warrie and Coomera Circuits. While the 600 metre return journey to the waterfall is too short to really be considered a hike or a bushwalk, I'm glad that an accessible trail has been provided so that almost anyone can get to see a really great waterfall in action.

The main Russell Falls lookout point is at the foot of the falls, however a series of stairs lead to a higher lookout point about halfway up the waterfall. While this secondary view point was worth checking out, the views were slightly obscured by the massive Mother Shield Ferns that were growing in front of the lookout point.

From Russell Falls, the Lady Barron Falls Circuit continues by rising up a series of well constructed steps that take walkers up to the head of the falls.

This is quite a continuous journey up a switchback, with some wooden stairs as the track reaches the top of the climb. The overall feel of this ascent reminded me a bit of the walk leading from the suspension bridge to the head of Beedelup Falls as seen on the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia.

The top of Russell Falls is kept safe by being behind a barrier, and there are no really good views from here looking down the waterfall. On the one hand, this is a bit disappointing as it can be really cool look down from the head of a waterfall but on the other hand it does mean that there is no unsightly viewing platform that can be seen from the bottom of the falls to remind people that this is something of a tamed wilderness.

Following the creek upstream along a wooden boardwalk, the track reaches a junction. To the left the track continues towards Lady Barron Falls along the circuit, while the smaller Horseshoe Falls is reached via a very short spur that runs straight ahead.

Another classic Tasmanian waterfall, Horseshoe Falls has appeared in plenty of photography books through the years and is one I remember vividly from a Steve Parish book I had as a kid. Seeing Horseshoe Falls was another one of those 'Little Donny' bucket list items I've been slowly ticking off. Ironically, while Horseshoe Falls was a lovely waterfall, it was also probably the least impressive of the three on the circuit, but would easily be the highlight on a lesser walk.

Back on the main track, the walking from Horseshoe Falls to Lady Barron Falls was filled with a lot of fascinating rainforest walking that definitely brought to mind the rainforests of South East Queensland. The Gondwanan resemblance was unmistakable, however there were definite differences in the species that made up the forest.

The most notable difference was the appearance of some truly massive Eucalypts throughout the forest. Known on the mainland as Mountain Ash and given the less impressive name of Swamp Gum in Tassie, these giants are the tallest flowering plants in the world and the second tallest trees after the Sequoias of North America although there were apparently taller examples prior to European settlement that may have even surpassed the tallest Sequoias currently known.

For a Western Australian, these trees bore a strong resemblance to the beloved Karri trees of the Southern Forests, complete with the characteristically strappy, peeling bark common to the Karri forest. It definitely made me wonder how closely these trees are related genetically as they seem like relatives separated on two separate sides of an ancient continent. Compare the above photo with the cover photo for the Gloucester Route in Pemberton, Western Australia and you would be forgiven for thinking they were taken in the same place!

For those keen to see more of the Swamp Gum forest, it is possible to add an extra kilometre to the walk by adding the Tall Trees Walk to the Lady Barron Falls Circuit. While we did not undertake this extension, we appreciated the interpretive panels and the clinometer at a lookout point that allows visitors to measure how tall the trees are. From there, Alissa and I continued along the circuit as it crossed bridged streams and pass through more of the fern-filled rainforest.

Upon reaching some wooden boardwalks, the circuit reaches an intersection with the road that leads up to the alpine section of Mount Field. At this point, walkers will need to check for traffic as they carefully cross over to the other side.

The forest in the immediate vicinity of the road crossing is a bit dryer than what we had encountered earlier along the walk, and bore a very strong resemblance to the Southern Forests in Western Australia.

Before long we were descending back down into temperate rainforest and crossing more creeks on our way to Lady Barron Falls. The diversity of fungi growing along the trail was unreal, and Alissa was absolutely in here element. You can see photos of the fungi she photographed (including an amazingly purple mushroom) on Instagram.

As with Horseshoe Falls, Lady Barron Falls is reached via a short spur trail as it passes by some lovely moss-covered logs and lush ferns.

While less epic than the taller Russell Falls, Lady Barron Falls is a lovely multi-tiered cascade waterfall. Named in honour of Lady Clara Barron, the wife of a Governor of Tasmania, the somewhat aristocratic name seems fitting given the waterfall's elegant, regal appearance.

Back on the main track, the serene forest walking continues. The tracks basically follow the watercourse continuously, with excellent viewpoints scattered along the trail. 

For the most part, the water is fairly gentle, however a bridge takes hikers across to the other side at a more rapidly moving section of the creek. From here, the creek is followed for a short distance before leading to a set of stairs that takes walkers back up and out of the rainforest. 

While Alissa prefers walking down into a valley/canyon/base of a waterfall and then having all the ups at the end of the walk, she was not overly pleased by the reality of the 270 stairs leading out from the creek. This definitely felt like a bit of a flashback to the Grand Canyon Walk Track in the Blue Mountains, which ends with a fairly significant climb out of the canyon and back to the mountain clifftops. 

At least I can say that the steep set of stairs made for a fairly short and sharp ascent that was easier than the the rocky ascents more commonly seen on trails in Tasmania that are less heavily visited by tourists. 

Once we were out at the top of the stairs, Alissa and I found ourselves slowly descending back to the Visitors Centre through an area of burnt forest. I jokingly exclaimed, "I'm back in Perth!", to which Alissa added that this was still better than some of the boring, burnt sections of the Jarrah forest in the Perth Hills. Once clear of the forest, Alissa and I completed the loop as we returned back into the visitors centre precinct. 

Although a tourist-centric walk trail, the Lady Barron Falls Circuit is a perfect example of how to do this kind of trail right, with easy access for most to Russell Falls and well constructed dry boot standard trail along a well thought out and continuously scenic route. The three waterfalls along this circuit were all spectacular, and the rainforest and Swamp Gums made for magnificent forest walking. This was Alissa's favourite day walk of the trip, and will definitely appeal to fans of walks like the Grand Canyon Walk Track in the Blue Mountains or the Coomera or Warrie Circuits in South East Queensland. 


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